1. A medieval chemical philosophy having as its asserted aims the transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of the panacea, and the preparation of the elixir of longevity.

2. A seemingly magical power or process of transmuting: “He wondered by what alchemy it was changed, so that what sickened him one hour, maddened him with hunger the next” (Marjorie K. Rawlings).

[Middle English alkamie, from Old French alquemie, from Medieval Latin alchymia, from Arabic al-kīmiyā’ : al-, the + kīmiyā’, chemistry (from Late Greek khēmeia, probably alteration of khumeia, from Greek khein, khu-, to pour; see gheu- in Indo-European roots (influenced, owing to the reputation of Egyptian alchemists, by Greek Khēmiā, Egypt, from Egyptian kmt, Egypt, from feminine of km, black, in reference to the black soil of the Nile valley)).]

al·chem′i·cal (ăl-kĕm′ĭ-kəl), al·chem′ic adj.

al·chem′i·cal·ly adv.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.



1. (Alchemy) the pseudoscientific predecessor of chemistry that sought a method of transmuting base metals into gold, an elixir to prolong life indefinitely, a panacea or universal remedy, and an alkahest or universal solvent

2. a power like that of alchemy: her beauty had a potent alchemy.

[C14 alkamye, via Old French from Medieval Latin alchimia, from Arabic al-kīmiyā’, from al the + kīmiyā’ transmutation, from Late Greek khēmeia the art of transmutation]

alchemic, alˈchemical, ˌalchemˈistic adj

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(ˈæl kə mi)

n., pl. -mies.

1. a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy of the Middle Ages that attempted to discover an elixir of life and a method for transmuting base metals into gold.

2. any seemingly magical process of transmuting ordinary materials into something of true merit.

[1325–1375; Middle English alkamye < Old French alquemie < Medieval Latin alchymia < Arabic al the + kīmiyā’ < Late Greek chēmeía,chymeía alchemy]

al•chem′ic (-ˈkɛm ɪk) al•chem′i•cal, al`che•mis′tic, al`che•mis′ti•cal, adj.

al•chem′i•cal•ly, adv.

Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.



A medieval philosophy and early form of chemistry whose aims were the changing of common metals into gold, the discovery of a cure for all diseases, and the preparation of a potion that gives eternal youth. The imagined substance capable of turning other metals into gold was called the philosopher’s stone.

Did You Know? Because their goals were so unrealistic, and because they had so little success in achieving them, the practitioners of alchemy in the Middle Ages got a reputation as fakers and con artists. But this reputation is not fully deserved. While they never succeeded in turning lead into gold (one of their main goals), they did make discoveries that helped to shape modern chemistry. Alchemists discovered and purified a number of chemical elements, including mercury, sulfur, and arsenic. They invented early forms of some of the laboratory equipment used today, including beakers, crucibles, filters, and stirring rods. And they developed methods to separate mixtures and purify compounds by distillation and extraction that are still important.

The American Heritage® Student Science Dictionary, Second Edition. Copyright © 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


See also magic.


the secret of life; a great elixir or remedy sought by the alchemists. See also knowledge.


1. the hypothetical substance sought by alchemists that was believed to transform base metals into gold and give eternal life. Also called philosopher’s stone, elixir of life.
2. Rare. the quintessence or underlying principle. See also remedies.

Hermeticism, hermeticism

1. the ideas or beliefs set forth in the writings of Hermes Trismegistus.
2. adherence to these ideas and beliefs.


the occult sciences, especially alchemy. Cf. Hermeticism1. — hermetist, n. — hermetic, hermetical, adj.


1. originally, alchemy devoted to medicinal purposes, especially the alchemy of the period 1525-1660, influenced by the theories of Paracelsus.
2. currently, chemistry for healing purposes. — iatrochemist, n.


an alchemist.


the process or act of change, especially from one thing to another, as the change from base metal to gold, pursued by the alchemists. — transmutationist, n. — transmutative, adj.


an alchemist who believed that, in one of several ways, it was possible to change less valuable elements into silver or gold.

-Ologies & -Isms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The practice of turning base metals into gold but also of attaining spiritual perfection.

Dictionary of Unfamiliar Words by Diagram Group Copyright © 2008 by Diagram Visual Information Limited


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